Dennis Lehane may very well be one of my favorite authors, and I always look forward to his novels. While I started reading his thrillers and mysteries, I also loved The Given Day, which was historical fiction (though it still focused on cops and crime). I was very excited to see that he had written another historical fiction novel, though I was surprised to see that this one would be leaving his usual turf of Boston, and take place partially in Florida. While I loved The Given Day, it has been a long time since I read it, so I didn't even realize until almost halfway through that this was one of those sequels that isn't a sequel. The main character, Joe, is the little brother of the main character from The Given Day (I didn't remember his last name and therefore didn't make the connection until he actually showed up in the novel for a brief scene).
While his father is a police officer, and his older brother was one, Joe has chosen to make his living on the other side of the law. He is mostly involved in petty crimes, but as the novel begins, the crime world in Boston is about to experience some major transitions and upheaval. Joe's been loosely attached to one crime syndicate, and White, a former cop turned gangster, has decided to consolidate power and take over Boston. Since White and Joe are both in love (or lust) with the same woman, and on opposing sides, things quickly turn bad for Joe, ending up with him in jail in Charlestown. In order to survive, Joe must make questionable alliances that eventually lead to his placement as a mob boss in Tampa, Florida, working out of the Ybor section of town.
While Joe likes to think of himself as an outlaw rather than a gangster, as time progresses and he becomes more powerful, he realizes that that statement is no longer accurate due to the compromises he has made. While the novel starts with Joe as a young man that holds up a card game, it soon becomes a much more sweeping story, involving mob warfare, bootlegging, and empire building. There's even interactions with Cuban freedom fighters and revolutionaries once Joe establishes himself in Florida. Overall, while Lehane touches on a broad spectrum of issues and historical events, it felt like a lighter read than The Given Day, more of a thoughtful fast paced ride while The Given Day explored a few issues more deeply. There is also a sideplot regarding Joe's relationship with a police chief in Tampa. While it begins from a position of mutual respect, Joe ends up using questionable means to justify the ends, even admitting to himself that he acted that way because it was easier and faster. Unlike some of his peers, Joe is better at long term planning, and this too helps him remain successful. While there are few moments where Joe's luck just seems a bit too good and some of the situations seem almost too crazy, Joe is an easy character to root for, and I was more than willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of being swept along with the story.